A Fool & His Money
Being A Chronicle of My Fiscal Failures and Monetary Mishaps
By Jeffrey Kieviet
When I Was 5 Years Old…
Remember Bullwinkle’s? Like the moose and the squirrel, that old cartoon? Well this was an actual place, sort of like a Chuck E. Cheese’s, but inspired by Rocky & Bullwinkle, with a few elements of Dudley Do-Right & Fractured Fairy Tales thrown in for good measure. I used to love this place, full of bright, flashing lights, the ring of bells, and the victory tunes of tickets being dispensed. I’ll be darned if I wasn’t trained for Las Vegas from an early age.
So I forget the actual date or reason I was at Bullwinkle’s; probably a friend’s birthday or a celebration for making it through an uninterrupted day of kindergarten, no hiding in the backyard in a feeble attempt to ditch class or shedding my clothes and claiming a “fugue state” (see Breaking Bad) so I wouldn’t have to go. Regardless, I was there, I was eating pizza & slamming tokens, I was having fun.
I was having so much fun that my mother gave me another FIVE WHOLE DOLLARS to go out and get more tokens. Back in the day, I could take a buck, turn it into 4 tokens, and manage The Simpsons or X-Men arcade games for hours on end. Thinking about the possibilities of $5: the last level of Space Invaders or the final boss of Metal Slug: hundreds of thousands of tickets capable of purchasing a $3 airplane set with broken/missing pieces! This day could have been an epic spree of time-wasting, brain-melting fun.
It happened on my way to the token machine. Little me, 5 years old, blond-almost-white hair, cherub cheeks and a smile that hadn’t yet been touched by the existential nihilism of adulthood; I’m walking toward the machine, $5 bill in my outstretched hand, when some little bastard runs by and snatches the cash straight out of my small fingers, throwing a mocking glance over his shoulder as he laughs and runs away like a worthless scrap of human indecency. It’s been many years, and I’m sure the memory has been altered by time and hatred, but I can still picture his fleeing form with crystal clarity. He was dressed in all black, like the villain of an old western, black jeans falling low as he pulls them up with one hand, sagging with the prison offer of vulnerability, “I’m a little bitch,” his wardrobe screams. A backwards black cap set to prove how valueless this person actually was, there was no actual sunshine in Bullwinkle’s (no matter how realistically it warmed my heart), no need to wear a hat, never mind the lack of gentlemanly respect by leaving it on indoors. Picture a 12 year old, evil Zack Morris, the early years of Saved By the Bell, the cocky little brat who had so little testicular fortitude, he needed to steal from a hapless child. I still get angry when I see someone enjoying themselves at a Chuck E. Cheese or Captain Stu’s Space-O-Rama, reminded of the happy childhood wrought from the clutches of my tender, tiny hand.
Right Out of High School…
Who hasn’t fallen victim to a pyramid scheme? I mean the idea is just so simple: I give you money, then ten people give me money? And then ten people give each of them money which also goes to me? How can I not win?
So I’m going to Junior College, or this might even still be the summer in between high school and OCC (Orange Coast College, which I always felt should be OCCC: Orange Coast Community College, but whatever, I guess they’re not committed to their community), and I’m looking for some extra cash. Something I can work around my already-full-time job, as well as the shlump of classes I’ve put together to further my education. I see one of those posted flyers with the slips of paper at the bottom: “Guitar Lessons,” take my number; “Lost Cat,” call if found (it always works better if there’s a reward); “Job Opportunity,” you’re here to make us money.
And I call. They “schedule an appointment” to meet with me, so I show up in my worn out slacks and dad’s button-up, collared shirt, with a pad of paper & pen, ready to reap the benefits of free money. This “appointment” is actually a large presentation hall with about 40 other potential employees, all of them sitting with their own “personal assistant” or whatever they’re being advertised as: a person from the company to sit with you and talk you into it. It must be said that even though I sat through this process, I have been to a few other pitches in a desperate hope to pad my wallet. This was the first and only time they were ever able to get money from me. However this is the only time in my failures where I got my money back, still not sure exactly how.
I forget what they are selling. Electric services, carving knives, whatever it may be doesn’t matter. At the end of the presentation people are standing up, “This really works,” “I made $1,000 after my first week,” and “My family was going to kick me out of the house if I didn’t get a job, but I showed them. I started working here and within the first month I’d screwed everyone I know out of their life savings. Made me a millionaire!” Ok, maybe not exactly that, but close enough. Where I should have seen a red flag is they make you pay for training. I’m not one to spout aged advice on entrepreneurial escapades, but regardless of how good a company’s product or service is, if they are legitimate they will not make you pay for training, especially the $495 I’d dropped on them. They may make you buy your outfit, pay for the gas in your car, or even the hundreds of thousands of dollars they demand you pay for the education to work for them, but a real business will not make you pay for them to train you. Or, at least, they shouldn’t.
The next day I’m making the conference calls, telling my friends, and getting super jazzed on this business idea. But as I was explaining the sellto my mom, watching her get hooked on the sale, I realized what I was actually saying. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks (well, like a single brick, which would still have a hell of an impact), I’d been duped. Now I’m sure, had I worked the system, committed 80 hours a week, been willing to lie, cheat, and steal my way up the corporate ladder, and begged family and friends for non-refundable investment capitol, I could have made the business work for me in a way where eventually money would have ended up in my wallet. But I’d just been looking for a little pocket change.
Costa Rica, August ‘09…
Every family vacation has its ups and downs. Ups: we went zip-lining, bungee jumping, saw beautiful beaches, and stayed at fantastic hotels. Downs: early onset alcoholism, crabs (the crustacean kind, but still, when dozens wind up in your bed, it may be as bad as the transmitted kind), illness, and getting mugged. Let’s skip right ahead to that last one: getting mugged.
For those of you unfamiliar with Costa Rica, it’s basically southern Mexico. I mean, like way southern, past a few other countries and not actually located in Mexico, more Central America, but it’s filled with salsa music, beans & rice, and Hispanic Rastafarians. More importantly, it is a beautiful and peaceful country. It got rid of its army in 1949, that’s how peaceful the place is. Like, “no, we’re good. Don’t need an army. Abolished. Pura vida!” How cool is that? People do NOT get mugged in Costa Rica.
So let me tell you about the time I got mugged in Costa Rica. We were staying on the west coast, a fancy resort in Tamarindo, a city in which I am now famous. Not by name, but by the label “Gingo Loco.” It may be a label I gave myself, but ask the local villagers, they’ll know. Over the course of our first day, I drink tropical, fruity cocktails and befriend a local honeymooner. In broken Spanish (see my other adventures in foreign language), we decide to head over to a local pub. In my limited conversing skills, further inhibited by copious amounts of alcohol, I discover that this bar is solely populated by drug dealers and hookers. Don’t get me wrong, very nice drug dealers and hookers. Everyone in Costa Rica is very kind. As the evening wears on, I realize that my accomplice, the honeymooner, has left with one of these ladies of the night (honeymooner, as in he was on his honeymoon), and I am now stranded. But I have a wristband with the name of my resort on my wrist, so I figure a cab should be able to help me out. Of course, before I leave, I figure it best to make my water in the on-site restroom to avoid wrecking the fine upholstery of the Costa Rican Cab Co.
As I walk into the bathroom, I see two shady looking gentlemen hovering just around the corner. My mind makes a mental note but doesn’t process or do anything, just registers that people are there. I go in, do my business, wash my hands, and when I turn around, these 2 young hooligans are standing there, blocking my way to the door. One reaches into my front pocket and for a brief moment, I’m shocked by the kindness of strangers. If this man is reaching into my pants to do what I think he’s going to do, I’m flattered but I don’t swing that way. Much to my disappointment, he pulls out the small wad of cash I had in my pocket (I know you are supposed to keep your wallet in your front pocket while traveling, but thankfully I was stupid enough to just have some loose bills up front with the majority of my stash still in my back pocket). Since I’m drunk and don’t speak Spanish, they’re evil and don’t speak English, the whole thing has a surreally quiet tone: I try to take my money back, there’s that awkward Three Stooges moment where we’re all slapping at each other’s hands, and then I’m bleeding profusely from my nose.
I don’t know how it happened or which one did it, but at some point during the skuffel something knocked me in the face. I blame one of the guy’s fists because based on the scarring (still there today) it looks like he had a ring or something guarding his knuckles. Wimp. Anyway, instead of crumpling into the corner of the bathroom and crying in a puddle like any sane, decent person, I decide to chase these MoFos down! I burst from the bathroom lathered in blood and rage, like some sort of Red Hulk (Stan Lee stole the idea from me). I can only see one of them, making his way through the dance floor like some cowardly Fred Astaire. Stumbling after him, I keep my distance for fear he may have a weapon, although if it’s a gun, distance isn’t going to do much. My only means of attack are grasping at his shirt collar and spiting sprays of blood at him while demanding “Da mi me moneda!” Roughly “Give me my money!” He climbs into a taxi, the front passenger door, so the more I think about it the more I’m convinced the cabby was in on the scheme. Since the window is down and I’m an idiot, I clutch the door and stick my bleeding face inside, still shouting like a mad deviant in a foreign devil’s tongue. The cab begins to take off, me still desperately clinging to the open window. I hang on for about twenty feet until I’m tossed aside by the speed of the vehicle, making a clumsy shoulder roll on the cobbled streets.
Eventually a different cab kindly drove me to emergency care, free of charge. He even gave me a shirt since mine was a filthy, congealed mass of rot. I got some stitches and some antibiotics, a scar on my nose and shoulder, and a story to tell the grandkids. I still get angry when I remember what happened, flustered and upset at how I was violated and beaten. My biggest wish is that they remember the night as vividly as I; the crazy ass who wouldn’t take it lying down. Maybe they’ll rethink things the next time they want to rob somebody, maybe they won’t. At the end of the night, I probably cost them a few bucks for new clothes, I got plenty of blood on theirs as well as mine. And if they’re clothes cost more than $20, the night cost them more than it cost me; that’s all I had in my front pocket.
Just The Other Day…
I was driving back from a rehabilitation clinic in the Los Angeles area, visiting someone very close to me. I stopped at a gas station to grab a drink, a $0.99 Arizona Iced Tea; what an awesome company? They print the price right on the can so retailers can’t over charge you. Anyway, as I pay I notice I have $111 left in my pocket. It’s a fun number, eleventy-one, so I know exactly which bills are where in my pocket when I climb into my car. I put the key in the ignition, turn it on, turn up the music, when there’s a knock at my window. I hand-crank the window open, like the good Amish-lord intended it, and there’s a woman with a young child in tow. Before I can say anything, she just starts rambling, “My father died and I’m driving to his funeral and I’ve got eleven kids with me and we have no money and no gas to drive all the way out to BFE where my father’s getting buried can you please help us out?”
So I reach into my pocket, and subtly separate the two bills that make up $11 from the Benjamin tucked away safely at the bottom crevasse. Don’t get your hopes up, that Benjamin remained safe and sound. But I hand the woman the $11. I know her story is ridiculous and is probably not true. Best case scenario she’s a lousy street peddler using these children for leverage against weak-hearted kind souls. I understand this, I know it, and accept it. But I was coming from a place where things were pretty bad, people were realizing just how low humanity can sink, and I was in a mood to be a force for good in this world. Regardless of her reasoning, I had money and she did not. I was filling my karmic piggybank and giving her a measly $11. It wouldn’t solve her problems, it wouldn’t even give her a full tank of gas, but it would help, and there have been times I needed help so I was just paying it forward.
Never again. With a look of disgust she greedily snatches the two bills and without a second’s hesitation “Can I just push you for $10 more? We need so much and yadda yadda yadda.” I was stunned. I shouldn’t have been, I’ve dealt with greed and the human condition before, and I really shouldn’t have expected more from the way she had initially presented herself, but my state of mind was struggling so hard to believe in good that I was truly shocked by how she reacted. True, $11 isn’t the end of the world, but to me that’s 2 meals, a night at the movies, 2+ gallons of gas for my car, endless possibilities of value. And I thought I was doing a nice thing by relinquishing my hold on worldly goods to offer these endless possibilities to someone less fortunate, because that’s what it is: fortune, luck, chance. I could have just as easily burnt into a small pile of ashes due to spontaneous human combustion as manage to manifest $11. But this person, with no regard to what I may have had to do to earn this money, where I was in life, what funerals I may have had to attend or what children may rely on me for sustenance, just wanted more. Money for nothing.
I consider myself a generous person, but she has now ruined that for everyone. It wasn’t the first time and it probably won’t be the last, but it is definitely the straw that gave the camel a 2nd hump. She wasn’t even that bad off; she had a car, a family. Unfortunately any homeless, hopeless, or helpless person is now tainted with the stain of villainy this woman projected on humanity. It’s not like I expect to be worshipped for giving a little charity, a dollar in a tip cup or change in an outstretched hat is nothing to brag about or brood over. But $11 is a big donation for someone like me, especially to a cause like someone like her. She didn’t need to be grateful or grovel. She could have gotten away without even saying “thank you” and I would have felt like I’d done a good service to her and the world. But now I think she’s a drain on society, that regardless of what her reasoning, even if her father was dead and she did desperately need the gas to get across town to say “goodbye” for the last time, even if her children are starving on my front porch, she doesn’t deserve my help. Because it’s not going to make any damn difference. If I give her $11, she wants $20. If she got $100, she’d ask for more. If you give a mouse a cookie, that mouse becomes the embodiment of every dollar I’ve ever lost. Now this woman represents to me the kid who stole my $5 at Bullwinkle’s, the company that tried to screw me out of hundreds of dollars so I could screw my family and friends out of their hard earned cash, the yellow, lily-livered chickens who transgressed my financial security in a foreign country.
I’m left with the cliché: money is the root of all evil. It’s paper, it’s credit, it’s an abstract concept that exists in the digital nowhere where all secrets are kept. I don’t have a solution, the barter system in general is madness, and until everyone is self sustaining there are always going to be the haves and the have-nots. I just wish there wasn’t so much baggage that comes with coinage. Greed, manipulation, supply, demand, penalty, perjury, justice, vengeance, Batman. I lost the train of thought. The next time you walk by someone in need, help them out. The next time you want to take ravenously and selfishly from another person, don’t. You may give Jerry Springer a hard time for who he was and what his show was about, but the dude knew his stuff. He ended every show with the simplest and most perfect of catchphrases: “Take care of yourself, and each other.”